By Kelly Carmichael
Date / Venue: Tuesday November 5th, Q Theatre, Auckland
Michael Hurst's Auckland production of Chicago is not for the puritanical of heart. There's flesh, swagger and a gloriously saucy line up of basques, stockings and suspenders. With less gloss and grittier characterisation than the film, this production charts the slippery rhythms of lust, celebrity and scandal with a practiced eye. Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical is a sexy tale of greed and corruption that centres around the wicked plight of two female murderers - except of course they didn't do it.
Lets just get it out there - Lucy Lawless is far fitter and more foxy than in the photos circulating around of her in this production. Fresh from playing another character in the recent Los Angeles version of the risqué musical, Lawless turns out a mean Velma Kelly. Her attention-grabbing prison rival is Roxy Hart, played vividly from ingénue to consummate operator by Amanda Billing. And what does any scheming lady-felon need more than pair of silk stockings and an accommodating prison matron? A slick talking lawyer. Obviously. Enter Shane Cortese in a shorty leopard-print robe as supreme media manipulator Billy Flynn.
With an exceptionally strong supporting cast playing multiple roles, including the androgynous Will Barling as female prisoner Mona, the small cast established a dynamic and feverish presence. Configured in the round, the Q Theatre setup presented the cast with a tightly choreographed demand so no corner of the stage was left empty. With seats on all four sides, the stage was set for an encounter, not just between characters but also with the audience. Hurst's adaptation of Chicago is a production that seeks to provoke and entertain and it is an immersive, intimate experience.
The hottest little jazz slayer in town until Roxy Hart came along; Velma Kelly's jazz age journey is one that echoes a surprisingly contemporary theme. Given the seating formation and intimacy created with the audience, Lucy Lawless' performance of Kelly's languid sexuality and later jealousy and insecurity as Hart steals her media crown, echoes the hunger for celebrity in contemporary society. The audience, as voyeurs of Velma's pride and downfall, are the tabloid press waiting with transparent relish for celebrities to topple.
Although some of the songs have been cut, this tale of greed, adultery, lust and revenge turns out some notable numbers. A rousing When You're Good to Momma was sung by Colleen Davis and accompanied by a beautiful lighting design that cast shadows on all three tiers of audience. Best voice hands down goes to the talented Andrew Grainger, however, in the role of Roxy's pathetic and put upon husband Amos. His version of Mister Cellophane was the standout number of the night, not for the catchy lyrics or overt sexual playfulness that make the Chicago score so popular, but for the singularity of his strong and resonate voice.
Roxie Hart: Amanda Billing
Velma Kelly: Lucy Lawless
Amos: Andrew Grainger
Billy Flynn: Shane Cortese
Mama Morton: Colleen Davis
Narrator/Little Mary Sunshine: Sandra Rasmussen
Chorus: Will Barling, Stephen Butterworth, Mike Edward, Rebekkah Schoonbeek, Sia Trokenheim, Hannah Tasker-Poland, Lavinia Uhila
Music by John Kander Lyrics by Fred Ebb Book by Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse